Xi’s Back

Xi Jinping made his first public appearance since the beginning of the month on Saturday morning, and Xinhua noted the occasion without acknowledging his two-week absence:

BEIJING, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) — Vice President Xi Jinping arrived at China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularization Day.

The report, quoted above in its entirety, is accompanied by two photographs in which Xi shows no obvious signs of his widely rumoured ill health. According to Keith Zhai at the South China Morning Post, “teachers and students at the university said Xi stayed at the campus for about 30-40 minutes. They said Xi gave an outdoor speech for more than 10 minutes on agriculture technology innovations. They noted that Xi’s voice was “pretty normal” and he appeared in good spirits.” From Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard at Reuters:

A Reuters reporter at the university saw a man with sleek black hair wearing a white shirt — who from a distance looked like Xi — getting loud applause as he stepped out of the building housing an exhibition and raised his arms up and down twice in a gesture of vigour.

There was a light security presence around the university, but a building housing a science exhibition was closed off by police and plain clothes guards.

Hundreds of students applauded, some shouting “Vice President Xi” or even “President Xi”.

A roar went up when his car rushed by and Xi waved his hand out the window.

“It was him for sure,” said one student, who had taken a blurry shot of the car on his smart phone. “He must be better.” The student refused to give his name.

Exactly what Xi might have recovered from remains a mystery. Recent reports and rumours have variously put his absence down to liver cancer, a stroke, a heart attack, a back injury from swimming or soccer, or other injuries sustained, according to one short-lived theory, in an attempted assassination by traffic accident. Politics have also been part of the mix, however. On Wednesday, Hong Kong-based iSunAffairs claimed that Xi had actually been “working behind the scenes to orchestrate unprecedented political reforms“. The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore suggested on Friday that Xi may have been busy dealing with bruising criticism from Party elders following an eruption of factional discord:

Xi Jinping, 59, came under attack from party elders, who described him as “unreliable” and questioned whether he should be elevated to the pinnacle of Chinese power.

The attacks came at the beginning of August at a short and bad-tempered meeting in Beidaihe, a Chinese seaside resort, when senior party members gathered to negotiate and plan their once-in-a-decade leadership change.

[…] The pressure on Mr Xi, who is the focus of the world’s attention as he tries to grasp his chance to be president, may explain his mysterious absence.

[…] Zhang Ming, a professor of politics at Renmin university, said he had heard that Mr Xi was criticised by the party elders. However, he still expected him to take control. “No one would risk ruining the stability of the party at such a late point,” he said. He added that physical illness was also no barrier to Mr Xi’s ascendancy. “Who on the Politburo is not nursing some sort of chronic illness?”

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